The Islands of Great Bernera and Grimsay are among the pioneers in a communications revolution which has hundreds of people involved in the constructing a new broadband hetwork leading to people's homes and businesses.
Alasdair Allan MSP quizzed engineers from Openreach about Scotland’s digital future during a drop-in session at the Scottish Parliament.
The MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar heard about the work being done to upgrade the country’s broadband network and how politicians can help industry investors to speed up the build.
He also tried connecting tiny glass fibres used to transmit data at the speed of light and chatted to some of the 220 new apprentices taken on by Openreach in Scotland this year.
Alasdair Allan MSP said: “Scotland’s at the start of a digital journey from old copper cables to full fibre technology, where the fibre doesn’t stop at the street cabinet but goes all the way to the home. It’s more resilient and future-proof as well as faster – with fibreoptic cables as thin as a hair able to deliver gigabit speeds.
“This was a great opportunity to learn what that will mean for local people, businesses and future public services like education, healthcare, transport, energy, water and housing. Good connectivity supports productivity and economic growth but also brings really valuable new opportunities for sustainable communities.”
According to thinkbroadband, the UK's largest independent broadband news and information site, over 77% of people in the Western Isles can currently access superfast broadband at 30Mbps+.
However, the focus is now shifting to ‘ultrafast’ full fibre, as the copper network reaches the end of its life. Openreach is the UK’s leading full fibre builder, with plans to reach four million homes by March 2021.
Residents of Grimsay and Great Bernera recently become the first in the Western Isles to have full fibre broadband installed as part of the Scottish Government’s Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.
Where previously those communities had top download speeds of around 2Mbps and restricted data allowances, they now have access to a full fibre network capable carrying services at 1Gbps - around 18.5 times faster than the current average speed across the UK.
The drop-in event on Thursday, 3 October was hosted by Brendan Dick, chair of the Openreach Board in Scotland, who said: “We can’t build a new full fibre network for Scotland without support from our public sector partners. It won’t be quick or easy, but action to reduce red tape and remove barriers will speed things up.
“The Scottish Government has already reduced the tax on fibre infrastructure but we also need to make street works and getting access to land and blocks of flats simpler and mandate full fibre for all new housing developments, which we think is a no-brainer.
“But this is not simply about putting wires into the ground. It’s about what full fibre technology can do for Scotland, helping to answer long term challenges like energy use, climate change and sustainable rural communities.”
Openreach is recruiting 220 trainees in Scotland this year, building on its biggest ever recruitment of 400 new engineers last year. They join its 3,200-strong Scottish workforce.
It has invested more than £500,000 in fibre training centres in Livingston and Dundee to make sure engineers have the right skills to deliver the new full fibre network.
FTTP is capable of delivering the fastest residential broadband speeds in the UK – up to 1Gbps – that’s around 24 times the UK average speed of 44Mbps (according to Ofcom) and enough to stream 200 HD Netflix movies simultaneously, based on Netflix internet connection speed requirements.